I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, but the timing was never right…until now. Today I’m happy to share everything with you:
In 2014, I quit my job and tried to start my first online business.
I use the word “tried” because I spent the first 3-4 months making very close to $0. Looking back, I realize that I struggled because the things I was doing was for the wrong reasons. For example:
I was trying to sound like I knew more than I actually did at the time - calling myself a marketing strategist and sending out detailed proposals for high-level consulting to potential clients.
I was focused on sounding successful rather than working toward building a business, getting results, and actually being successful.
When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, everything you do is surface level. You can only pretend for so long. And, even if things may be going well for you financially (which I’m glad wasn’t the case for me because I was forced to face reality), battling impostors syndrome isn’t easy. You’ll constantly feel inadequate, stressed, and anxious, because your subconscious will be telling you “It’s only a matter of time before [insert fear here].”
Ultimately, I was ignoring a few important things that I should have been focusing on when trying to start my first online business: 1) my current skills and knowledge, and 2) my interests and passions.
Luckily, these months of failure made me stop and take an honest look at myself and my situation. I remember feeling lost, like I had nothing to offer the world and even though I had graduated with an MBA just a few years prior, I felt like I had no real-life skills that I could monetize and build a business around.
I reached out to some people I looked up to and they provided me with some very insightful help and guidance…more than they probably realized at the time.
I remember one conversation in particular that I had with Noah Kagan from AppSumo and OkDork.com (I share the entire conversation below) that allowed me to change my mindset, find my way, go all-in on my idea, and launch my first online course. Thanks Noah!
Only 9 months after that conversation took place, I was consistently generating $3,000/month in revenue and set off to travel the world with my new location independent business. In 2015 alone, I took my business with me across 4 continents and worked from some of the most beautiful places in the world like Thailand and Australia.
In this post, I want to break it all down for you to the smallest detail. If you read it ‘till the end, here’s what you’ll learn:
- How I came up with an idea based on my current skills that led me to launching an online course in a very uncommon niche.
- What Noah Kagan told me in a short email conversation that helped me change my mindset from a scarcity mentality to a mentality of abundance.
- How I made my first sales and created some early momentum by putting together a $10 “test course” and talking about it in a Facebook group.
- Why simply making $67 gave me the self-confidence I needed and helped me outline an in-depth signature course that I later sold for 397 euros.
- How I was able to reach the right audience and pre-sell my course before even creating it when I had 0 people on my email list and 0 social media presence.
- What I did to sell more and sell consistently after my course was created to fund my travels around the world.
How I came up with an idea for my business based on my current skills and how this led me to launch my first online course in a very uncommon niche.
When I decided to stop being fancy and focused on making money instead, things slowly started falling into place.
A big part of that involved looking internally and being honest with myself about what I currently had to offer.
I knew I wanted to start an online course because I loved to teach, just not in a physical classroom. So, I asked myself: What do you know a lot about that you can teach other people? At the time, I came up with 2 distinct answers pretty quickly:
1) Baseball: I was an NCAA scholarship baseball player,
2) Playing poker: I played online poker throughout college and was very successful…I had even coached some others players over Skype at a rate of $100/hour.
Wait, what did you just say?!
I know, I know…it’s crazy now that I think about it too.
I had this massive opportunity staring at me for a long time, yet I refused to do anything with it. After I graduated college I quit playing and coaching online poker because I felt like it was time for me to get a “real” job. And, I didn’t see myself in the poker industry forever so I didn't want to start an online business in a niche that I already knew wasn’t my long term strategy. Looking back, I was too busy planning the future and living in fear rather than taking action and focusing on making things work right now.
But, when it came down to it I was fed up of spending months making $0.
I realized that I was being totally irrational. I was basically telling myself it’s okay to make $0 as long as people think you’re successful because you call yourself a marketing strategist, rather than actually making money and being known for being a professional poker player who has an online course about winning at online poker.
Even though I had this opportunity sitting right there, practically waiting for me, I had a hard time accepting it.
One of the biggest problems occurred when I spoke to those around me (family/friends) about what I wanted to do. Can you relate?
I didn’t get the reaction I wanted…after all, I come from a conservative Italian family and playing poker is gambling.
Because of all the resistance around me, because of my lack of confidence, because of all my fears and doubts, I took zero action.
But, there was something inside me that had to know. So I reached out to a few entrepreneurs I looked up to, looking for something, anything, that would help me either get started or trash the idea once and for all.
What I learned:
-Don’t be stubborn. Don’t ignore the obvious. Making money is more important than sounding fancy. Without it, you’ll have to go back to your 9-5.
What Noah Kagan told me in a short email conversation that helped me change my mindset from a scarcity mentality to a mentality of abundance.
Although I don’t really believe in looking at 1 particular moment as THE turning point, as I think it’s always a succession of lots of small moments that make things happen, I have to say that this conversation with Noah Kagan was definitely one of the moments that stood out.
Below is the email I wrote Noah.
At the time I was battling with A LOT of self-doubt and was hoping that Noah could give me some brutally honest feedback. Look at how many psychological barriers I had and how scared I was:
Here’s Noah’s reply:
He was right - I already knew the answer to my own question. I just needed someone to give me a little confidence and say just go for it. I’m grateful that Noah did that for me.
Because of his comments, I was able to realize that I needed to shift my mindset from a scarcity mentality to a mentality of abundance. Sure, this business might not last me forever and I might want to change industry in the future, but that’s okay. I’ll figure it out along the way.
What I learned:
- Most of the time, we already know the answers to our own questions - we just have a hard time facing them. Be self-aware and give yourself permission to follow your vision. If you need some extra support, reach out to someone. Sometimes a simple conversation like the one above does wonders for your confidence.
- Your first online business doesn’t need to be your last. There’s way more value in doing what you can today with what you have, than waiting for the perfect idea and perfect time. Just focus on learning everything you can every step of the way so that if you need to change directions in the future, you have the knowledge and ability to do it. **Everything I’m doing today over at www.michaelcarbone.ca is something I learned by starting my poker business; from creating a website, to podcasting, to creating 2 other online courses.
How I made my first sales and created some early momentum by putting together a $10 “test course” and talking about it in a Facebook group.
I will never forget my first sale.
When I was coaching poker players back in college, I would record the lessons I used to conduct over Skype. Now, I had the idea of putting them to use by putting together a 4 hour video course that covered some of the basics of playing heads up poker (my specialty and niche). I was planning on selling it for $10.
Once that was done, I posted my story in Noah’s Facebook group From Wantrepreneur to Entrepreneur.
My goal was to share my story with the community and get a conversation going so I could see what the general reaction to my concept was.
Here’s my post:
The reaction was amazing.
Not only did I get 29 likes and 47 comments, but 3-4 people commented saying they wanted to buy my course.
I also went out and did some hustling and private messaged a few others who liked my post but didn’t comment - I made a few other sales doing that.
By the end of the night, I made a total of 7 sales and generated 67$ after fees.
My first sales, BOOM!
What I learned:
- Put yourself out there, the reaction is usually better than you expect. Most of the time, you are your most difficult critic. Also, when it comes to an idea for an online course, what might seem trivial to you can be a huge solution to other people. Usually, the absolute worst case scenario is that the people you speak to will give you some constructive feedback that you can then use to improve your idea and execution.
- Your first product or course isn’t your final product or course. It’s okay to start with something that may be inferior to what your final plan is as long as it helps you get started and allows you to keep moving toward the big picture instead of keeping your dream a dream because the thought and complexity of it is paralyzing.
- Go out and hustle. Talk to people, give them a call to action, and ask for the sale.
P.S. Please charge more than $10.
Why simply making $67 gave me the self-confidence I needed and helped me outline an in-depth signature course that I later sold for 397 euros.
At this point, I still didn’t have a website - but I had sales.
And the kicker: the next day I attended a wedding and while I was there I made 3 more sales. I remember hanging by the bar with a friend, feeling my phone vibrate in my pocket, and seeing the email “You’ve got cash!”.
I remember that feeling. The excitement. The rush. The feeling that this whole online business thing is actually be possible.
I had just made sales.
At a wedding.
With a drink in my hand.
It was my first taste of passive income and I really, really liked it.
And although it was just pocket change and it may seem irrational that my mind was blown by such a small amount of money, that’s all it took to get me hooked. That’s all it took to make me believe, to give me momentum, and encourage me to keep me going.
What I learned:
- When you’re first starting out, making $67 online feels better than making $500 in your full-time job. Get started fast, make your first sales, and feel that excitement and adrenaline that makes you believe that this thing is actually possible. (Hint: don’t spend months of your time and thousands of dollars creating your website first, that’s almost always a mistake.)
- Was that first $10 video course any good? Definitely not. But, the reason why I’m telling you this story is because I truly believe in the power of getting started. And, the fact that I got started with a terrible $10 course is the reason why I’m still here today. Getting started is always the hardest part, yet it’s always overlooked. Seth Godin put it really well when he said: “If you set your bar at “amazing,” it’s awfully difficult to start.”
**If you’re wondering how this all played out logistically and how I delivered my video course to my buyers, I like where your head’s at. At the time I hosted it on a little website called Fedora, which is known today as Teachable. I was one of their first beta users and received free access to the platform as a trial. This gave me an inexpensive and quick way to upload my course and avoid all the technical obstacles that I may have faced when trying to deliver it to my buyers. Lucky me! (Today I use Thinkific.)
How I was able to reach the right audience and pre-sell my course before even creating it when I had 0 people on my email list and 0 social media presence.
Before we go any further, I want you to keep in mind that the fact that I was able to sell a $10 course wasn’t something that gave my idea validation. It simply gave me momentum, which is very different.
I understood that my decision to price my course so low wasn’t the best decision because it likely generated mostly impulse buys (being willing to buy a 10$ product is very different than being willing to buying a $100-$300 dollar course). So, I still had a lot of work ahead of me.
Okay, on to the good stuff!
If you’re able to get past the idea phase (which is where most people get stuck), this is where the biggest struggle happens.
As online entrepreneurs, we all want to do 2 things: 1) build an email list of targeted and loyal subscribers and 2) sell our stuff to them.
But, how are we supposed to even get started when all we have is an idea, no one on our email list and therefore no one to sell it to?
I found a way around it by hosting webinars.
Here’s what I did:
Being a classic wantrepreneur, I had signed up to and watched many webinars as a guest. Because of that, I knew that hosting a webinar would allow me to accomplish both my objectives at the same time.
I knew that when people signed up to my webinar, I’d be building my email list.
And I kew that when they attended I would be able to pitch them my course.
(I decided to pre-sell my course before creating it by selling access to a private Mentorship Group. By doing this, I planned on providing my students with 1 new video each week - ultimately allowing me to create the course one video at a time while as the weeks unfolded. More on this later.)
So, host a webinar is what I decided to do.
But again, I was faced with the same problem: how do I get people to sign up to my webinar if I have no audience yet?!
I took two different approaches which both worked really well, so I’ll explain them for you here:
1) Paid ads:
My initial instinct was to pay for traffic. I decided to post an ad in a popular poker forum where I knew my exact target market would be hanging out. This forum is a place where poker players go to read and discuss poker strategy and it included everyone from absolute beginners to those who are playing the highest stakes online.
Since I knew that my target audience was basically made up of poker players who were serious about their improvement, I knew that posting an ad in this forum would be seen by the right people. As an added bonus, the forum had a “coaching” section where the ad would be placed…so my ad would be even more targeted than just a random banner ad because it would only be seen by people who were looking for coaching and willing to pay for help.
I reached out to the admin of that section of the forum and requested their advertisement rates. They quoted me with the price of $150/month to create a new thread with my coaching offer. I decided that $150/month was worth the investment because I was planning on selling access to my Mentorship Group in that price range, so I figured I’d be able to turn a good ROI on it. All I needed to do was sell 1 membership and I’d hit my breakeven point.
I went for it and used the entire thread to promote a webinar I had scheduled titled: Make $1,000/month playing Heads Up Sit n Go’s (as I mentioned earlier, my niche was heads up poker, not cash games or tournaments). I gave social proof, shared my previous results as a poker player to show credibility, and even threw in some old coaching testimonials from players I coached back in college. That was enough for me to create enough authority and get people to sign up for the live event. (Keep in mind that I never hosted a webinar before this point and I was way out of my comfort zone by doing this.)
**From this ad alone, I was able to get approximately 70 people to sign up for my webinar (if my memory serves me correctly), which also meant 70 new email subscribers.
2) Joint ventures / Collaborations:
The second approach I took was very simple and based on the idea of guest blogging or getting featured on someone else’s site: I decided to host a webinar specifically for the audience of a well known heads-up poker website that offered free resources and training videos and attracted a lot of people trying to improve their heads-up play.
My pitch for a joint venture was simple: I offered to host a free workshop for their audience in exchange for a profit share of all sales generated from their audience on my workshop.
I saw a few massive benefits by doing this: 1) I would be getting highly targeted email subscribers and 2) I would be getting a highly targeted audience to attend my webinar who would be very interested in what I was selling.
**From this collaboration alone, I was able to get approximately 120 people to sign up for my webinar (if my memory serves me correctly), which also meant 120 new email subscribers.
Now on to the meat and potatoes:
What did I pre-sell and how did I pre-sell it?
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to pre-sell my course so that I could make sales before I even created it. So, I decided to craft my offer as a Mentorship Group and sell memberships at end of each webinar that I was going to be hosting.
(For those of you who aren’t familiar with webinars, they’re basically a free online workshop/seminar where you can attend to learn about something you’re interested in. Often times, the person who is hosting it makes an offer or pitch at the end for their products, courses, services, etc.)
But, why sell a Mentorship Group and not pre-sell the actual course itself?
Well, first and foremost I wanted to make sure I spent nearly all of my time hosting webinars and making sales. I scheduled the start of the course only 3 weeks away, so I didn’t want to spend the little time I had creating all the content for my course, recording all the lessons, editing them, uploading them, and making sure I could deliver it to my buyers in time. I preferred to spend those 3 weeks hosting as many webinars as possible and making as many sales as possible, then creating the content as the Mentorship Group unfolded.
By spending all my time pre-selling the Mentorship Group, I allowed myself to focus on sales first, while then being paid to create the course as the group was being held.
This is what I included in the membership to my Mentorship Group:
- A new 1-hour video every Monday morning: Every week, my members would wake up to a new video that would teach them a new concept that they would then focus on applying for the week. **The biggest benefit I got from doing this is that I only needed to create 1 video per week and not go crazy by doing all the work upfront.**
- A community: People who are trying to learn something crave community. This allows them to feel part of a group of similar minded people which they likely don’t have in their personal lives. **The biggest benefit I got from having a community is that I was able to see the interaction amongst my members and notice what was working, what wasn’t, and the exact problems they were facing as they went through the course.**
- Accountability, motivation and 24/7 access to me: Since I was the admin of the group, my members had 24/7 access to me so they could send me a note or ask me a question whenever they felt stuck. Plus, I understood that most people need accountability and motivation throughout the process or they tend to lose interest, so I made sure I was there to check in on them and keep them on task. **The biggest benefit I got from doing this is that I was able to ensure that all my students were making progress and would get results. This way I would have a lot of amazing testimonials by the end. And, giving them personal attention like this allowed me to charge a premium.**
Now, all that was left for me to do was to find new audiences, invite them to my webinar, and convert them from listeners to buyers. (At the end of each webinar I hosted I sold memberships to my Mentorship Group for $150/month.)
By launch day, I had 12 members in the group for a total of $1,800 of recurring monthly revenue.
I was VERY happy with this outcome.
All that was left for me to do was to make sure I helped every single member get tangible results. That way, when the group came to a close, I would have compelling testimonials that I could then use to market and sell these videos as a course.
As the weeks unfolded, I welcomed new members into the group who found me via word of mouth, student referrals, or even saw my ad in the poker forum (which I renewed to promote my Mentorship group instead of my webinars).
Before I knew it, I was making a consistent revenue of $2,500-$3,000/month with a recurring subscription model.
Let’s fast forward a few months:
After I had taught all my content and my students were ready to graduate, I closed my Mentorship group.
By that time, my students were equipped with all the knowledge, skills, tactics and strategies they needed to make $1,000/month (and more!) playing poker online and had given me amazing testimonials…one my students ended up making $5,800 in one month.
Then for the easiest part: I took all the videos I created for the Mentorship Group, packaged them beautifully, and sold them as my premium video course.
What I learned:
-You learn how to start a business by starting a business. Whether you host a Mentorship group like I did or do a beta launch, working with your customers while you create your course is the best way to ensure that the course is tested and all gaps are filled, while getting paid, before you officially launch and go live.
What I did to sell more and sell consistently after my course was created and how this funded my travels around the world.
Because of the process I followed, selling my course was much easier than it is for most people who build an entire course upfront and try selling it from scratch afterwards.
Because I had testimonials and proof that people who took my course got results.
Then, when it came to selling the course I followed the same approach that was proven to work to sell memberships to my Mentorship Group: hosting webinars.
So, I repeated the process over and over again:
1) I posted an ad in the poker forum promoting a webinar I would be hosting, I taught people amazing content on my live webinar, and I then offered the attendees a chance to buy my full course at the very end.
2) I negotiated joint venture deals where people with an already established audience (with the same target market), I’d promote my webinar to their list, I’d host the webinar and teach amazing content during the live event, and then I’d offer the attendees a chance to buy my full course at the very end.
This allowed me to host 4-figure webinars on a regular basis while travelling the world.
Take a look at my PayPal account after I hosted a webinar…while travelling across Australia.
What I learned:
Find a system or process that works and repeat it over and over again. It’s that simple. And, if you don’t have one that works for you yet, pay someone, learn their system and implement it in your own business. If you want my exact webinar system, you can get it here.
As you can see, creating an online course and selling them on webinars can be a total game-changer. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Since launching my first online course in the poker industry, I’ve learned an incredible amount about online business, life as a full-time entrepreneur, and what it takes to make it all come together.
And, the most rewarding part is that everything I’m currently doing successfully today is something I learned through creating and launching my poker business.
So remember, get started right now with a topic you know well and that you're passionate about. Even if that means doing something a little unconventional.
As Mark Twain said: "The secret to getting ahead is getting started."
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So, what did you think?
Can you relate to what I went through during the early days as an entrepreneur? What do you think about my approach to getting started? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.